Dear Mexico (et al),
Hi there! How are you? I think that in Spanish, this would translate to something like “Hola! Como estas?” And, as a matter of fact, that’s sort of what I’m here to talk to you about.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I completely love Spanish culture – the Taco Bell Dog, Salma Hayek, and the Wishbone adaptation of Don Quixote are all big favorites around my house – and I’m completely respectful of the place of the Latino in American culture, be they legal or illegal. I myself am a Mexican American; I was reluctant to accept this at first seeing as I can trace my lineage all the way back to the motherland of Ashtebulah, Ohio, but the University of Oregon is quite convinced that I am, in fact, a Latino, and you’d think that if anybody knew what they were talking about, it would be an institution of higher learning. I put all of this information out in the open just so you know that I’m really on your side as far as the whole racial equality thing goes.
That being said, if it’s not too much trouble, could you stop having your own language?
I know, that probably sounds really insensitive, but try and see this from my point of view. It’s a lot of work to learn a new language – I’m talking hours of studying here, no joke – and frankly I think that’s time that I could better spend on other pursuits. I mean, it’s not you – it’s me. I’ve already got a language; its name is English, and it treats me really well. We’ve been together for a good long time, and I can’t imagine myself with any other language at this point. I hope we can still be friends, though – I’ll still refer to my house as Casa Capps, and I promise to always sing all the Spanish parts of “Feliz Navidad”, even though the English parts are a lot more awesome.
I tried, I really did. I’ve been taking Spanish, on and off, since the fifth grade, but it’s just never really worked out for me. Come to think of it, that could well be the fault of some of my educators. In fifth grade, we had a half-hour long Spanish class once a week – it met on Fridays, for the last 30 minutes of the school day. Apparently understanding the futility of trying to make a group of 11 year olds do anything non-Spongebob related at that point and time, our teacher drilled one phrase into our tiny heads by forcing us to chant it, in unison, to him at the beginning of every class. I know now that the phrase was, “Hola, Senior Carter! Como estas, usted? Y tu? Muy bien, gracias.” However, in those 30 futile minutes before the weekend, my weary mind, inhibited cognitively from its 10:00 hazing in Math and overstimulated by the rush from the seven Jolly Ranchers earned during Language Arts, perceived this statement as, “HolaseniorcartercomoestasustedytumuybienTRANSFORMERS!” This was about the only Spanish-related thing we did in fifth grade Spanish at Shirlie Elementary; for the rest of the 30 minutes, our beleaguered Senior Carter would lead us through halfhearted games of Spanish Bingo, which were about as educational as they were entertaining.
Thanks to my lackluster Spanish education in elementary school, I floundered in middle school Spanish, although this could just as well be thanks to the teaching abilities of Senora Smith. Senora Smith was insane, I’m almost sure – offensively so, to the point that she encouraged us to remember the Spanish word for desk (“Pupitre”) by reciting the verse, “You poo, then you pee, then you carry it on a tray!”* Now, even in my early adolescence I had a decent enough sense of the world to disregard anything said by a woman who openly advocated the carrying of one’s own piss and shit around with them, and thus I made a point of not listening to her as she laid the foundations for the rest of my class’s eventual Spanish education, for I fully expected that at any moment, two orderlies would burst in and cart her back to the Oregon Institute for the Criminally Insane and the real Senora Smith would arrive to teach us actual, non-crazy Spanish.
*No, I’m not joking. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. She said this, and she said it a lot.
Alas, that day never came (it still hasn’t – according to my middle school’s website, she’s the head of the Spanish department now), and I stumbled into high school Spanish with passing grades thanks only to my remarkable abilities as a teacher’s pet. In high school, I slaved away for the two years that were required of me to graduate, and I actually became a respectable Spanish speaker by Sprague High School standards, insofar as I was pretty good at asking what time it was and could carry on an abbreviated conversation about my favorite food so long as the other person spoke slowly. However, I finished my high school Spanish education in my junior year of high school, and it was in my senior year that I started actively dating. There’s only so much room in my brain, and it got to the point where I had to choose between remembering the Spanish language or remembering the finer points of tonsil hockey, and I don’t even need to tell you what my 17 year old mind deemed more important.
So here I am in college. I am now the Wayne Gretzky of tonsil hockey – a proud career behind me but no new games in sight. Returning to the neglected world of Spanish, putting up with the same conjugations and simplified, present-tensed stories once again, I realize that this is truly not my area of expertise. I’m not good at this. I appreciate the dozens of English cognates, but I’m falling apart on remembering the conjugations for the dozens of verb tenses. I don’t think a language needs any more than three verb tenses – the extra ones are just sort of muddling things up. My problem with the overall structure of the Spanish language is one of the reasons I’m suggesting that maybe you just give the whole thing up, Mexico.
I know that it may seem crass of me to simply ask you to disregard the language you’ve been speaking for 500-odd years, but again, I’ve really been trying here, and it seems that fate is conspiring with the subjunctive and past imperfect verb tenses to keep Spanish from meeting me halfway. I think that if American school systems really intended to educate their students in a second language, they’d make a better go at it than starting the program one Friday a week for fifth graders, followed up by scatologically based studies and high school curriculum more forgettable than the majority of Steve Martin’s career for the past decade.
So, Mexico, you’ve got to understand that I’m really in a bind here. I either have to make a decided personal effort to learn a second language, or convince all Spanish speakers to learn English out of goodwill towards me. I sure hope you’ll consider this seriously – I think I’m a pretty reasonable guy.
All the best!
Truman Capps realizes that he's talked about Mexico for quite some time without mentioning that Carlos Mencia is a no-talent hack. So, Carlos Mencia is a no talent hack.